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Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
Unit 3
Clare Place
Plymouth PL4 0JW

Plymouth City Council
Plymouth PL1 2AA
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01752 305940
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Quills and court-hand writing

The quill pen

A quill pen is made from a flight feather of a large bird, most often a goose or a swan. The shaft of the feather stores the ink and when it is in contact with paper, the ink flows to the tip. Quills were used for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen and the ball point pen came into use. The quill pen was the main writing instrument used from the 6th century until the mid-19th century. It provides a sharp stroke and flexibility, unmatched in steel pens, and is still considered the best writing tool.

English court-hand writing

English court-hand writing was used by the official courts of the sovereign but later became used by professionals such as lawyers and clerks. It is noticeably upright and packed together with exaggeratedly long ascenders and descenders, the latter often and the former occasionally brought round in sweeping crescent shaped curves. By the middle of the 17th century the writing had become so stylized that it was primarily being used for formal documentation.

Have a go at writing your name in English court-hand on some aged paper.

You will need:

  • non-permanent black ink
  • a feather
  • some paper
  • a tea bag
  • the 'how to' work sheets and examples (download below)

As producing the paper can be messy and making the quill requires the use of a scalpel or knife, any children undertaking this activity must be supervised.

Not only can you create a pen and try court-hand writing but you can see images of some from our collections at Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. The reference numbers are attached, so if you would like to see the original documents, please telephone us on 01752 305940 or find details on our bookings and opening times page to make an appointment.

PDF icon How to write in English court-hand style - letters [500KB]

PDF icon How to write in English court-hand style - how to make a quill pen and age paper [12KB]

PDF icon How to write in English court-hand style - examples page 1 [392KB]

PDF icon How to write in English court-hand style - examples page 2 [428KB]